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BRIAN MCKIM has performed standup comedy in all 50 states. He earned a B.A. in Magazine Journalism from Temple University. Any resemblance to a living person is purely coincidental.


Brian McKim
Editor In Chief

"All Growed Up"

Just got back from the Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal. They turned a profit. They had over a million people buy tickets. Almost 1,000 agents, managers and other industry types registered for credentials of some kind or another. It was the second JFL Festival to be covered by SHECKY! and we had a great time.

There are certain aspects of the Fest that can be very disheartening. It's fascinating to see so many people inside and outside the business get so excited about standup comedy, but are they really excited about standup comedy?

The hype is intense. The Hollywood Reporter kicks out daily 4- or 8-page updates th at look like a mini version of the HR. They help to make everyone aware oftelevision and movies. The people that generate the most excitement have flown in from Los Angeles. Andy Kindler's State of the Industry Address talks mainly about television executives, crappy television and bad films. Do you detect a pattern here?

Oddly enough, nobody really seems all that excited about standup. I'm not talking about improv or mime, or quick-change artists or puppets underwater. Nobody gets very exercised about them, either. But, for a comedy festival, there seems to be little emphasis on whether or not anyone is funny.

Even the comics don't seem concerned about "being funny." Instead, they seem intent on being "likeable" or "appealing" or "attractive." In other words, few people want to be known as a standup comic. It would be a serious misstep if you were to travel to Montreal merely to establish the fact that you were a funny standup comic. This would be the kiss of death.

The New Faces showcases are a stark example of this. Nothing benefits more from buzz than New Faces. It's all anyone seriously talks about with any reverence or excitement (in that casual, I'm-trying- not-to-get-too-excited kinda way). There were a few seasoned veteran comics presented via New Faces, but a good chunk of the people among the New Faces have only been doing standup for 18 months. I remember when I had been 18 months or so into standup. I sucked. But, apparently, this isn't the point.

The point is that the Festival isn't about standup comedy any more. The larger point is that standup comedy isn't about standup comedy any more. It's about deals and hype and big money.

How naive can you be? It's always been about big money! you might be thinking. Well, yes and no.

The Festival's rise to prominence closely mirrors the rise of standup comedy as a cultural phenomenon. Standup comedy became big business somewhere along the line. Some folks peg it at about 1989 or 90. Roseanne's series debuted in 1988. There followed a parade of experienced standup comics at the head of series: Seinfeld, Brett Butler, Tim Allen, Lenny Clarke, Kevin Meaney, Ellen Degeneres and a few others I'm leaving out. SNL started hiring more from the ranks of standup comedy. Standup was seen, legitimately, as a path to entertainment success. But somewhere along the line the whole thing got all turned around.

Now Hollywood execs fly to another country to sit in a smoky cafe to see standup done by people who haven't been performing more than 700 days. And the average age of said performers hovers around 26 or so. Does this make any sense, considering the average age of the Seinfelds, Barrs or Allens when they were signed to do a series?

There was a time when standup was simply about being funny. It was about being funny and experienced and competent when whipping a room full of people into a frenzy. But that isn't the point any more.

So what exactly is the point? And why do people get all fired up about New Faces? Is there a hunger in Hollywood for inexperienced 20-somethings who have the ability to mimic a standup comic for seven minutes? Is there a long track record of Generation Y comics who are heading up top-ten sitcoms over the past decade or so? Are there currently in production several future blockbusters whose scripts have been penned by former New Facers? Whatever the answers, it doesn't bode well for live standup comedy. But, like I said earlier, standup comedy isn't about standup comedy any more. HOME Back to the Top